Now I like Breaking Bad and Mad Men and Game of Thrones and Girls and whichever show is currently top of pops (tell me it’s not Homeland, it’s a poor man’s Rubicon and always was) as much as the next man – but none of them have as much vitality and originality and humour and gusto as Adventure Time, a kid’s cartoon ostensibly, shown on Cartoon Network, but rich as a double chocolate pudding, hip as a cameo in a Beastie Boys video and genuinely – genuinely – as hilarious as the most hilarious thing you have ever seen.
Adventure Time concerns a young boy called Jake and his shape-shifting dog Finn (who maybe shares a DNA helix with Futurama’s Bender but is infinitely funnier) who battle all manner of ne’er-do-wells in the Land of Oooo, often at the behest of Princess Bubblegum who Finn has a bit of a thing for. A typical Adventure Time plot might see Finn and Jake’s arch-enemy the Ice King dressed as a cow watching Finn and Jake go about their typical everyday business (playing video games on BMO, the talking games console, rough housing, eating elaborate sandwiches). Or helping Treetrunks, an elderly lady who bakes excellent apple pies, when all of her apples are stolen by bandits. Or hanging out with Lumpy Space Princess (usually abbreviated to LSP) who talks like a valley girl if the valley girl was a sort of amorphous pink cloud.
There are a number of things that make the show great. Tremendous voice performances is one thing. Great snappy writing. Genuinely weird plot developments (it’s sometimes worth playing the Adventure Time game of pausing the cartoon one minute in and trying to work out where you’ll be in ten minutes time – having watched four seasons of this thing, I’ve yet to get a guess right once). The right mix of dark (usually provided by Marcelline the vampire or one of the demons Finn and Jake fight) and light (the relationship Jake has with a Japanese Ghibli dragon is cute, as is the entire race of cute monsters who only want to be taken seriously for their ass kicking). The almost effortless way instantly quotable lines roll Bruce Robinson-like off each episode. Basically, it’s an awesome show that rarely lets such crass things as lessons get in the way of entertainment. And I haven’t even mentioned the way that Finn occasionally sings all vocoder-ed up because he once swallowed a computer.
The show then is essential. The graphic novel can’t help but be a severely watered down version of all of the above. There are a few reasons why the Adventure Time graphic novel can’t compete: one is the lack of much of what makes the show great (you miss the sound when you read); two is the fact that the graphic novel story probably runs the length of what would be three episodes (it feels like what an Adventure Time movie might feel like – or rather what a novelisation of an Adventure Time film might feel like) and overstays its welcome somewhat; three, there are a handful of occasions when the graphic novel tries too hard, puts its arm around your shoulder and says ‘this is the same as the cartoon, isn’t it, this is the same, it is, isn’t it, you like this, don’t you – don’t you?!’ a little hysterically (see the number of times Finn and Jake say ‘Adventure Time!’ to understand what I mean); and four – four: it’s pitched too young, doesn’t have that genius way of appealing to both children and parents that the cartoon has.
With all these caveats, however, it remains well worth a read if you, like me, are a big fan of the show – there is more peril in the book than I’ve yet seen in the show (an evil demon sort called the Lich appears with a bag that sucks up the entire world – itself a version of Earth – and by the midway point Jake and Finn are declared dead, only to be resurrected as part of an army of sand and snow versions of themselves in a vast super battle sequence that resembles a sort of fantastical Kagemusha). When you get over the emotional shortfall, there is a lot of fun to be had. There is also a smattering of nice meta-textual asides (Marcelline gets a bit put out with the reader for not caring overly about her fate) – be nice to see that fourth wall blown out completely if there are subsequent graphic novels (as I suspect there will be).
Any Cop?: Hardcore AT fans won’t get quite everything they want; as a gateway drug to the brain spelunking joys of Adventure Time, however, the graphic novel could lead more than a few people to the cartoon and for that it warrants a hearty pat on the back.